By Kelly Crawford
“There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” -G.K. Chesterton, quoted in Richard Foster’s “Freedom of Simplicity”
I’m not sure exactly when I started looking into the characteristics of a simple life and the damaging effects of endless consumption. When I had kids, it became essential to simplify my life and home so that I could maintain a calm and engaged environment for them. I had to become ruthless about saying “no” to activities so that our schedules didn’t become too full and we could prioritise time together as a family. I also started getting rid of a lot of stuff because I found that my children’s concentrations improved if they had fewer toys to choose from. I was drawn to the idea of minimalism and began reading blogs devoted to the subject. I’m sure at times I drove my husband crazy as I “Marie Kondoed” our lives, but now he is enthusiastically on board as well.
Once you start the journey towards simplicity, it’s hard not to notice the detrimental effects unbridled consumerism has on our lives. You begin to realise how many active measures you must take to not get sucked into the rat race of human existence…the never-ending pull to do more, have more, achieve more, be more. We have the tendency to consume a lot of things – houses, clothes, cars, food, experiences, success, friends, social media likes, parenting achievements, etc. The hard part is that most of these things are not bad in and of themselves. They become detrimental when they become what David L. Goetz, author of “Death by Suburb”, calls “immortality symbols” (a term originally used by psychologist Ernest Becker). Goetz says, “An immortality symbol is not really about the thing…It’s about the glory that the thing bestows on me.” It’s hard to confront consumerism without confronting your own immortality symbols and the immortality symbols of others. It may be easy for me to say “no” to a fancy car but saying “no” to my immortality symbol, that’s a different story.
My frustration with this never-ending pull to buy more, be more, and do more sometimes leaves me dreaming about living in a small town on a farm. There is something that this idea of small-town life represents to me – rhythm to the day, slower pace of life, depth of relationship, and connection to the land. The wonderful thing though, is that I don’t have to move to a farm to find these things. I don’t have to check out of my current life to live a simple one. It may feel harder to do it in my city suburb, but it is not impossible. The things I have read about the simple life and saying “no” to the fake promises of consumerism, point me to the practice of spiritual disciplines. The practice of spiritual disciplines helps me to engage in actions that build spiritual depth and connection to God, helps me to dissociate from the rat race of the world and engage meaningfully with my neighbour, and helps me put a spiritual rhythm and routine back into my daily life. There are solutions to be found in spiritual practices if we are willing to look.
The Consumed campaign is about helping people understand the damaging effects consumerism has on our lives, our relationships and our world – crippling debt, anxiety and depression, the breakdown of neighbourhoods, waste, exploitation in the supply chain and more. Consumed aims to be a space where Christians can engage around these issues, understand why they feel a desire to live differently, and take action by living differently and by creating solutions. Consumed is about helping us embed our thinking in Scripture and our relationship with God. Won’t you join us! www.consumed.org.au
Goetz, D.L. 2006. “Death by Suburb”.